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A Long Road From Kansas: Fletcher Foster Continues to Pave the Way

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Fletcher Foster can never be accused of being a one-dimensional music executive, except for always being known as the man with the golden touch. Known for his savvy business ventures and a keen sense of marketing, Foster continues to add to his reputation as being one of Music Row’s A-list executives.

Since arriving in Nashville nearly 35 years ago, his path has taken him down many country (and pop) roads – from being a college graduate at Belmont College and a short-lived jingle singer, to now being the President and Chief Executive Officer at Iconic Entertainment Group.

After making a decision to follow his musical dreams – with Los Angeles and New York feeling too big from his worried parents – Foster made the decision to leave Wichita, Kansas in 1981 to attend a small music school in Nashville – Belmont College. While working on his undergraduate degree, Foster became enamored with Music Row, recording advertising jingles and working as an intern at music labels to get his proverbial foot in the door.

After graduating, Foster found that country music was going through a drought on the heels of the “Urban Cowboy” period. Foster quickly found himself in tough competition in finding his first career job.

“After the ‘Urban Cowboy,’ explosion had starting subsiding, Nashville looked very different from a business perspective,” Foster said. “Music Row had a lot of vacancies from defunct record labels and management/publicity companies. There were a lot of people in the industry looking for jobs. I knew how important it was to continue ‘pounding the pavement’ and networking as much as possible at events.”
After working three internships at one time to secure a position, Foster was offered a full-time spot as a publicist with the Country Music Association (CMA), followed by his first foray into record label management.

“I was so thankful for my experience doing internships and my time at CMA. I knew I had to make a name for myself. Luckily, I was offered a position at Sony Music that helped define my career in Nashville. My position as manager of publicity offered an opportunity to work with Ricky Van Shelton and Mary Chapin Carpenter, two of the biggest names in the business at the time. In addition, I got to work with legendary acts such as Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Tammy Wynette.”

Remembering his teenage dream of wanting to pursue a career in Los Angeles gave Foster the courage to leave Nashville in 1993 to see what the City of Angels had in store.

“During the early 1990s, Arista Records was not only making a name for itself in country music with Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn, but was at the pinnacle in the pop music field,” Foster remembers fondly. “It was such a fun, crazy, chaotic atmosphere to be in Los Angeles working with music legend Clive Davis as he guided superstars like Whitney Houston, Kenny G and Toni Braxton.”

Foster’s position at Arista as senior director of national publicity and media relations enabled him to work on a solo project with Annie Lennox, former lead singer of the Eurythmics that has special meaning.

“One of my best memories of my time in LA was working on the ‘Diva’ album with Annie,” Foster said. “It was one of the first times in my career when I realized that work and play went hand-in-hand because I truly loved that project and still believe today that album is one of the best records in pop music history.”

Also while in Los Angeles, Foster spent two years at MCA as Vice President, Television and Multimedia Marketing. But, after five years in California, Foster was ready to make Nashville home again and accepted the position as president of artist development and then promoted to senior vice president of marketing, with his former employer, Arista Records.

“That period at Arista with Tim DuBois (president of the Nashville division) and with superstar acts like Alan Jackson, Pam Tillis and Brooks & Dunn was amazing,” Foster said. “We had such a great group of people at the label, many of whom went on to work with managing acts and leading other record labels. We were all so invested in creating campaigns and taking our roster of artists into new territories that had never been explored.”

Two years later after returning to Arista, Foster found himself nominated for two Grammy Awards for the soundtrack of “Happy, Texas,” as executive producer for the project. The soundtrack included such diverse talent as Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Keb ‘Mo’.

An opportunity to work with former MCA president and mega-producer Tony Brown (Reba, George Strait) and DuBois, who had recently left Arista, played a key role in Foster’s decision to move to Universal South. Brown, DuBois and Foster were beginning to see changes in the way consumers purchased and accessed music and wanted to be at the forefront of staying in tune with an ever-changing industry.

“It is hard to believe that it has only been 15 years since we started planning for the changes that were affecting the industry,” said Foster. “Hard copies of CDs were disappearing from big box stores like Target and WalMart. The Internet was playing a big role in the way listeners were accessing music. Little did we know we were on the cusp of seeing the music industry change so rapidly. It took time for artists, songwriters and label executives to fully understand what was happening.”

At that time, MySpace and Facebook were still in their respected infancy. New artists were being discovered by fans interactively, including short snippets of their music and posting regular updates to gain exposure on their respective websites.

“The business model that was driving business changed the way we access music almost overnight,” Foster said. “For those in the music business that embraced it, the rewards came immediate. For those who saw it as a phase probably were a few years behind in comprehending the long-term impact.”

In 2005, Foster continued leading the charge by initiating and serving as chairman for the 1st Digital Music Summit, which brought together leaders in the new media and technology industry. He continued co-chairing the event for several years, as it became the most important digital music conferences in the country.

Foster’s career continued to evolve as leader of Red Light Management, with a roster including new acts such as Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry to veteran acts such as Tim McGraw. But it wasn’t until 2014 that a new opportunity re-ignited Foster’s passion for artist development and management.

“It has been like having a child later in life with launching Iconic Entertainment Group,” Foster said. “I have a small staff that shares my passion for taking chances and working until we see the desired result. With the success of Kelsea and with launching new artist Levi Hummon, we must maximize our time and communication is key with every decision.”

The Kelsea mentioned is, of course, Kelsea Ballerini, one of the most heralded new female acts in the genre today. Ballerini’s first single, “Love Me Like You Mean It” was the first single by a new female artist to go to number one since Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” accomplished the feat 10 years ago. Within months, Ballerini scored multiple nominations at the CMA Awards, including New Artist and the prestigious Female Vocalist of the Year. Her second single “Dibs” followed its predecessor to the top of the charts and most recently has released a third single, “Peter Pan.” In addition, she scored the opening slot on Rascal Flatts 2016 tour.

Foster’s enthusiasm for his work is evident by the number of events he attends weekly. “There is something to do in this town every night, whether it is a songwriter celebrating a number one, a charity event, video shoots, talent showcases, among many others,” Foster said. “But, I love my down time and try to make the weekends about catching up with friends and spending time at home and at a beach getaway in Florida.”

photo courtesy of Fletcher Foster